During Ron Rivera’s three years as defensive coordinator with the Chargers, Rivera gave Peyton Manning fits, beating him in the playoffs and inducing four interceptions during their final meeting in 2010. That was perhaps the best argument for Rivera becoming a head coach, and it finally happened for him in 2011.
Rivera has been a respected and stable presence in Carolina since then, twice winning the AP Coach of the Year award and taking the Panthers to Super Bowl 50 — where, coincidentally, Manning would have his revenge.
He exits with 54.6-percent victory rate and a trio of NFC South championships (during an era featuring competing quarterbacks like Matt Ryan and Drew Brees). He also should find a landing spot, sooner than later.
It’s never quite clear which coaches will immediately be re-hired (like Adam Gase) and which coaches won’t be (like Mike McCarthy), but Rivera should immediately enter the planning process for the various other teams that are planning to make a change, but that haven’t decided to cut the cord on the current coach while doing so.
In New York, the Giants surely have begun to consider the alternatives to Pat Shurmur. And to the extent that G.M. Dave Gettleman hopes to remain on the job, Gettleman should instantly start banging the drum internally for Rivera, since a reunion of the duo that put a Super Bowl team together could be Gettleman’s best bet at hanging around.
Other teams thinking about a potential upgrade should at least think about Rivera, from the Browns to the Jaguars to the Chargers to the Falcons. And teams that are or likely will be hiring new coaches — Washington and Dallas — should instantly put Rivera on the list.
The Falcons become a fascinating option. Rivera would stay in the division, with intimate knowledge of the Panthers, Saints, and Buccaneers, and with an Atlanta team that is built to win, but isn’t.
Regardless of how it plays out, both the Panthers and Rivera will get a head start on their next move. If the Panthers were going to fire him after the season, it makes much more sense for both sides to do it now.